Highlights from the first SILS summer seminar to Berlin and Dublin

Release date: 

July 24, 2017

This summer, UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) students participated in a brand new international seminar that took them to the booming tech cities of Berlin and Dublin. Led by SILS Professor Paul Jones, the program focused on the ways information gathering, dissemination, privacy, and security affect business. By visiting a variety of enterprises, students had the chance to network, explore different career options, and examine the juxtaposition between multinational tech companies and the entrepreneurial start-up scene.

“This program offered students a chance to experience how leading and emerging companies and scholars in European Information Science are engaging in innovation in our swiftly changing field,” said Jones.  “Students were able to talk directly to innovators at places as different as Sage, Spoonflower, and Chaos Computer Club, as well as see their work in the historic and cultural context of their cities.”

SILS International Programs Coordinator Kaitlyn Murphy accompanied the group and provided a detailed account of the seminar’s highlights and insights.

Berlin (May 22 – May 30)

The program began with a lecture about the Soziale Marktwirtschaft (Social Market Economy) in Germany. Our first business visit took us to Deutsche Bank Innovation Lab, where we were introduced to the city’s start-up culture. The lab works to adopt emerging technologies in order to contribute to the bank's digital strategy. We then visited Microsoft Accelerator and learned how they worked with later-stage start-ups. In this environment, Microsoft provides the tools and resources that a start-up needs in order to become a successful company.

Both visits provided a behind-the-scenes look at what Microsoft and Deutsche Bank look for in a start-up, as well as context for what drives the innovative tech scene in Berlin. “It was interesting to get a perspective on what seems like an idiosyncratic relationship between a big corporation and start-ups,” one student commented. Shifting gears, we had a chance to focus on security when we visited Chaos Computer Club, Europe’s largest association of hackers. Remember Project Blinkenlights; the skyscraper buildings that were transformed into giant computer screens? That was Chaos.   


Seminar participants visit the Spoonflower offices.

The next day we had the opportunity to visit Spoonflower, an on-demand, digital printing company that prints custom fabric, wallpaper, and gift-wrap. Spoonflower actually began in Mebane, N.C., and has an office in Durham. They recently opened a factory in Berlin, so it was exciting to learn about their transition to the European market. During the presentation, we were lucky to hear from a UNC graduate who now runs the marketing department in the European office. Because the company is comprised mostly of females, we heard a lot about women in tech, and what this means in Berlin, Europe, and the tech world at large.

Our final visit in Berlin was to SAP, a German multinational corporation that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations. (In the U.S., SAP compares to Oracle.) With nearly 350,000 employees worldwide, we had our first glimpse of what a multinational tech company looks like. After we learned about SAP’s future plans for expansion and innovation, we were taken to their Data Space, located in the heart of Berlin. The epitome of innovation, Data Space includes an area to showcase ideas, food prepared with cutting-edge technology, and interactive media to encourage collaboration on the spot.

“The SAP visit was my favorite,” one student said. “I like that they were willing to share with us the exciting things that they were working on in information technology. I did not know very much about SAP before this visit, but now I am interested in looking at employment in their company one day.”

Our final stop in Berlin was to Humboldt University’s iSchool. After taking a campus tour, our day focused on cultural heritage information systems, and we learned a great deal from the research group working on this project. It was very fitting to learn about cultural heritage objects as many of us were exploring Berlin and its history for the first time. 

Over the weekend, the group headed to Potsdam, capital of the German federal state of Brandenburg. After touring the city and eating lunch, we visited Sanssouci Palace, the residence of the King of Prussia until the early 1900’s. Perched upon a hilltop above terraced gardens, the palace contained 10 rooms decorated in Baroque tradition. Surprisingly, the sprawling palace was considered modest for its time! For the remainder of the weekend, we explored Berlin on our own. Many students spent their time visiting Museum Island, walking around neighborhoods, or relaxing in nearby parks.

Dublin (May 30 – June 6)

Our first visit was to Sage, an enterprise software company. We learned the ins and outs of Sage, toured their workspace, and enjoyed a very practical “masterclass” on developing a LinkedIn profile. Shortly after, we left for the Guinness Enterprise Center (GEC). The GEC provides an environment to build and scale a business. This visit introduced us to the start-up culture of Dublin, and we learned what kind of infrastructure has been developed to support this type of innovation. The GEC was very dynamic, offering co-working space, training programs, access to finance, professional networking, and more. They call themselves the “ultimate ecosystem.”


Seminar students explore University College Dublin's
experimental archeology facility.

We also had the opportunity to visit Google’s Dublin headquarters, located in what the city calls the “Silicon Docks.” The docks house a concentration of European headquarters, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AirBnB, and several startups. Our visit allowed us an inside peek to the holistic work philosophy of Google as we explored the workspaces designed to encourage interaction and communication among employees. There were many alternative working zones, micro kitchens, informal meeting rooms, and open workspaces. (We heard a lot about the delicious, free breakfast!) Our final business visit was to the Insight Center for Data Analytics, where we learned about their work on data visualization and big data.

Our week in Dublin concluded at University College Dublin. After a round of lightning research talks, we saw a demonstration of IBM’s cognitive car, spent time in the cybercrime and digital forensics lab, and toured the experimental archeology facility. 

After a busy two weeks, students were given the weekend to explore Dublin on their own, or participate in optional excursions to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or to Wicklow National Park for some hiking.

See more photos on Twitter using hashtag #silsabroad. For more information about the SILS summer seminars, visit https://sils.unc.edu/programs/international.